|It Was the War of the Trenches by Jacques Tardi|
Casterman 1993/Fantagraphics 2010
All war is horrifying, but the horrors of the Great War and the scars left on the countries of Western Europe can never be overstated. Dedicated to Tardi's grandfather who fought in the war, Tardi very clearly states his intent in the forward. It Was the War of the Trenches is not a history, "but a non-chronological sequence of situations, lived by men of have been dragged through the mud... there are no protagonists... nothing but a gigantic anonymous scream of agony." And Tardi achieves that. In a series of unconnected short vignettes, Tardi vividly translates the experience of the War, visually in his stunning cartooning, with its cartooniness and unblinking hyperdetail, and in his equally astonishing prose, at once elegiac and straightforward.
There are no glorious battles, no victory, no real point to the effort, just horror, pain, blood, mud, disease, clouds, poison, bullets, fire, confusion, loss, guts leaking, rats scampering, food and bodies rotting, pointlessness, brutality, everywhere ceaseless unrelenting death. These aren't warriors on a battlefield but men and boys turned against other men and boys who had no desire to harm the other except that's what those in power told them to do so they do it, with increasing efficiency piling on senseless death upon senseless death upon senseless death.
This is a bracing, original, necessary masterwork, a stunning piece that captures the darkest part of the human condition and our shared history, as much a vital document of the dark open to the 20th century as a timeless treatise on the experience of all war. Jacques Tardi is widely regarded as one of comics' supreme cartoonists. It Was the War of the Trenches shows why.
The availability in the United States of Jacques Tardi (and so many more) is thanks to the efforts of the great Kim Thompson, who passed away this year. Thompson edited, translated and published It Was the War of the Trenches, and the work stands not just as a testament to Tardi's extraordinary skill but Thompson's as well.